CALUMET CITY | Officials with Thornton Fractional Township High School District 215 are watching closely the activity of the Illinois General Assembly for any reform in the way funding is provided for public service pension programs.
Those programs include one that covers retired schoolteachers in public school districts outside Chicago. One of the bills pending in the General Assembly calls for local school districts to pick up the costs for pensions, which currently are a state responsibility.
School officials across Illinois, including those with the Thornton Fractional high schools in Lansing and Calumet City, have said they do not want a shift because it would result in them having to raise their local property tax levy.
But District 215 officials on Tuesday said they liked the idea that state officials were talking about phasing in a shift toward local pension funding so that it would not hit the district all at once.
Superintendent Creg Williams said he has been told by state Education Board officials that the 6 percent of payroll level of funding the state pays now would be shifted by a half-percent each year to the school districts — meaning that it would be entirely the district's responsibility after 12 years.
“That’s not a bad option if it is phased in,” Williams said. “It’s if they try to do it all at once that it becomes a problem.”
District Finance Director Charles DiMartino said the district would have to come up with roughly $20,000 for its share of funding in the first year. That figure would roughly “double each (successive) year” until the 12-year phase-in period is complete, he said.
Williams said he has been tracking the legislature's debate on pension funding reform, and the issue is complicated by the fact that there are two pension-funding proposals currently being considered by the General Assembly.
One backed by Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, would call for less contributions from state workers. The unions representing many of those workers already have pledged they would not challenge the measure in court if it becomes law.
But another measure backed by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has the support of business owners who say Cullerton’s plan does not cut enough to be realistic.
“There are two issues I’m watching closely,” Williams said. “One is pensions, and the other is also pensions.”
Of the dueling bills, “we have to see which one actually becomes law before we can figure its impact on us," he said.
One other issue of concern to District 215 officials involves the general state aid provided to school districts. During this school year, the state provided only 89 percent of the amount that formulas indicated school districts were entitled to.
Some officials have said that amount could be cut further to between 81 and 83 percent, although Williams said he has heard from some legislators who say they are going to fight to keep it at 89 percent.
“I hope we’ll know by the end of the week,” Williams said.
DiMartino said the district will not know for sure until it receives its first aid payment in October for the 2013-14 school year.